Xander de Vries

After pleading guilty to a long list of crimes, two New Haven gang members received decades-long prison sentences earlier this month.

On Oct. 4, Jeffrey Benton, former leader of the Red Side Guerilla Brims, was sentenced to 40 years in prison after pleading guilty to charges of racketeering, money laundering and conspiracy to distribute cocaine. That same day, fellow gang member Robert Short received 30 years of jail time for his involvement in the death of Hamden man Darrick Cooper. The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Connecticut worked closely with the New Haven Police Department and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives for 18 months to convict Benton and Short of their crimes.

Benton and Short committed their crimes in 2011 and 2012 and were prosecuted along with 20 other members of the Red Side Guerilla Brims, a New Haven branch of the Bloods gang, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Rob Spector.

“[The Red Side Guerilla Brims] are a New Haven gang, but their members would often go to Bangor, Maine, to distribute crack cocaine and firearms,” Spector said. “In Maine, they could get more money selling crack cocaine and transferring firearms.”

Benton, Short and the 20 other prosecuted gang members were subjects of an NHPD investigation called “Operation Red Side,” according to the U.S. Department of Justice’s website. Other members of the gang were convicted of trafficking narcotics, attempted murder, armed robbery and murder.

NHPD Media Liaison David Hartman said that there are many layers to gang activity and drug crimes.

“Whether you talk to the narcotics task forces, the homicide division or the major crime division, Vegas odds say that, when people are shot, it’s due to involvement in gang activity or drug crime,” Hartman said.

Despite the criminal actions of the Red Side Guerilla Brims, homicides, gun violence and violent crimes more generally are at an “all-time low,” he said. He credited this fact to “Project Longevity,” a New Haven initiative that ensures gang-affiliated convicts who are released from prison know that the NHPD is paying close attention to them. With the initiative in effect, repeat offenses have become less common.

Spector echoed Hartman’s sentiment, citing that New Haven’s homicide rate has declined since 2011. According to the New Haven Register, the annual homicide rate in New Haven has dropped from 34 homicides to 13 as of 2016.

“There’s been a significant reduction in violent crime, and there are many factors,” Spector said. “Project Longevity, a violent crime initiative, is one of them. It focuses on a combination of outreach to individuals involved in gangs and groups, attempting to offer help, services, support, mentorship and motivations to keep these individuals from engaging in violent crime.”

Yet some gangs members reject Project Longevity services, Spector said. As a result, police devote special focus to monitoring those gang groups.

Although she had not heard of Benton and Short’s gang activity, Elli Park ’19 said she knows New Haven can at times be unsafe, even aside from gang violence.

“I usually take the shuttle around to feel safer,” Park said. “Last year, when I was around an area with a lot of bars and not a lot of Yale security, I had some encounters with strangers who were drunk or high.”

Still, Park, along with Nick Chang ’20 and Rebekah Kim ’20, said the NHPD and Yale Security do a “good job” maintaining the safety of Yale students and New Haven residents.

John Gross | johnny.gross@yale.edu